The Myth of a Man


Jonathan McLeod

Jonathan McLeod is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. (That means Canada.) He spends too much time following local politics and writing about zoning issues. Follow him on Twitter.

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59 Responses

  1. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    What I find most odd about this is the notion that there is being attracted to younger women, and there is mentoring younger men – as if one is a right turn and one a left, and you must choose between them.

    It’s hard not to read that with Fnord’s assumption that Shwyzer is talking about himself: “Hmmm. I’m noticing I haven’t been mentoring any young men. I wonder if that’s because I spend all my time trying to sleep with young women? I bet that’s it. I bet it’s a culture thing.”Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Schwyzer always struck me as the grown up version of the college student that takes Women’s Study courses and says the ideologically correct thing in order to get laid. One reason why I couldn’t get into The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was because the male protagonist came off like that to. That and I found the female protagonist to be a horrible person rather than a tragic hero in many ways. Sometimes she could be outright petty and evil.Report

  2. Avatar zic says:

    Jonathan McLeod, wonderful post. A moment of clarity here:

    It’s an incredibly sexist point of view to assume that only older men can offer the guidance that younger men need. Prof. Schwyzer offers no explanation as to why women are unable to provide this valuable service; it’s just assumed that men must take on this role.

    with the clarity finessed with your closing argument.

    And then Tod comes along with this:

    What I find most odd about this is the notion that there is being attracted to younger women, and there is mentoring younger men – as if one is a right turn and one a left, and you must choose between them.

    and the focus pulls ever tighter. Because younger women need mentoring, too.

    (Younger men also need to be viewed as attractive; but even the oddness of the sentence construction to say this shows how it puts people at a distance; how it objectifies people.)

    Well done, Gentlemen. Well done.Report

  3. Avatar greginak says:

    I used to read Schwyzer. When talking about his own experiences he can be very good. But he does project his issues onto all men and he has some big blind spots. Aside from fitting some definition of Man he is also focused, or obsessed, with being a Feminist Man. Being a feminist is good as is being a man. But he has some vision of an ideal Feminist Man he is all about achieving and telling us about.Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    The reverse is truer: young men ought to seek out the company of older women. At least early on in life, everyone does well to find an older partner. Youthful enthusiasm meets older wisdom and cleverness, everyone’s happy. If there’s any mentoring to be done, older women are fonts of wisdom.

    Might not work out in the long term but not all relationships are meant to be permanent. Women younger than my oldest daughter are off-limits, however cute they might seem: there’s nothing there for me, though I’m rather older than my current sweetie.

    Trying to evict objectification from sexuality is a fool’s errand. Robert Frost:

    And yet for all this help of head and brain
    How happily instinctive we remain,
    Our best guide upward further to the light,
    Passionate preference such as love at sight.

    • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to BlaiseP says:


      Diotima teaches young Socrates about love and love of ideas, without which Socrates wouldn’t be Socrates.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Shazbot5 says:

        I should point out that this is one of the most important mentoring roles in all of philosophy.

        Maybe it is as important as Mentor himself and his “mentoring” of Telemachus.

        But Wikipedia reminded me of something I had forgotten. Mentor’s best advice to Telemachus doesn’t actually come from Mentor, but comes from the female goddess Athena, who is disguised as Mentor.

        I also think that mothers are in most traditional cultures more mentors (advisors, trainers, moral teachers, teachers, psychotherapists) to their children and nieces and nephews than fathers. Really, the idea that men are better mentors is a kind of modern sexism.Report

  5. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I don’t know anything about this Schwyzer guy, so I’m going to try to limit my comments to what he’s written (and the responses its garnered), and not comment on how sincere he is or what his faults might be.

    I do think there are proper places and times for sex-specific mentoring. There are differences between the sexes. Some of this is biological, happening along a spectrum, and some of this is socialized. While I would personally prefer to see us critically assess and address that which is socialized, the reality is that it exists. As a result, there exist times where one’s experience is informed or impact by their sex or gender, and thus the ability to mentor across sex or gender lines is going to be difficult.

    As an example, I’ll my work place, where I recently served as a mentor to a younger guy in the primary wing. We were the only two guys in the division. We both worked on the younger spectrum of that division (me with the PreK, him assisting in 1st grade). There are some unique situations that arise around being a man in the world of early childhood education, situations that many women don’t or can’t understand because they’ve never experienced them. Again, whether or not these situations should exist is another conversation for another day; but the reality is that they do exist. So I was able to provide insight and perspective into these experiences in a way that a female mentor likely couldn’t have. And even if they could have been provided, might have been harder to accept for my mentee because the issue of credibility might surface.

    To put it another way, think about a well-intentioned but perspectiveless man attempting to mentor a young woman new to the city. “The subway runs 24 hours. If you’re traveling between these neighborhoods, you can safely take it all night; trust me, I do it all the time.”

    See anything wrong there? I do. And I do because I was once that guy, offering that very same advice to a female friend. Her response? A stern stare, followed by, “Well, yea, that works for you. You’re a guy. You don’t really have to worry about being raped.”

    And she was right.

    This is not to say that ALL mentoring must be same-same when it comes to gender or sex. Nor am I arguing that nothing can be learned from the other gender or sex. Only that there do exist certain scenarios where the ideal mentoring will be intragender/sex.

    I don’t know if this is what Schwyzer was getting at. I learned as much about being a husband from my mom as I did my dad, albeit in different ways. So this aspect of “manhood” did not need to be taught by a man. But some probably do.Report

    • Avatar Jonathan McLeod in reply to Kazzy says:

      Kazzy, I see what you’re getting at, but your examples are much more about having context-appropriate mentoring, rather than a need, inherently, for same gender mentoring.

      You’re professional example is completely about how we’ve socialized the sexes. And, consequently, it’s fair for someone who needs mentoring to guide the sexist perceptions of teaching young kids to learn from someone who has gone through the same thing. But if people didn’t, initially, assume some sort of gender essentialist mindset about the proper types of jobs for men (and for straight men), then that problem wouldn’t really exist.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

        Absolutely, JML. You nailed it.

        Context-appropriate mentoring might sometimes involve (demand?) same sex/gender mentoring. However, in an ideal world, this would likely rarely be the case. There probably would be a handful of contexts that would still demand it as a function of the non-socialized differences between the sexes, but they would be few and far between (e.g., I’d be much more receptive to advice from an older guy about how to handle an adolescent erection in public than I would a older female). But I would love if I didn’t have to coach that guy in how to avoid getting himself into hot water for doing the exact same thing a female teacher would do.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

          Hahahaha, and let me just clarify that when I say “…handle an adolescent erection in public…”, I mean if I were the adolescent having the erection.

          I have zero interest in handling other people’s erections, adolescent or otherwise, publicly or privately.Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I’m not really that much of a fan of May-December Romances. The appeal of the older partner providing romantic and sexual mentoring to a younger partner regardless of the gender always seemed kind of sketchy to me. However, if it happens I don’t think that we should really protest it to much, unless the younger partner is under the age of consent or there is a power dynamic abuse, and just kind of accept. Its not really that nice to make snide comments about couples. Protesting wide age ranges makes as much sense as protesting inter-racial couples, none at all.Report

  7. Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

    We should reject this view. We should embrace the outlook of Mr. McBee. There is no faceless collective Men

    Interestingly, this requires that there be more to us than just our socialization, or we would be more of a collective. Which, of course, does not mean socialization doesn’t always play a role.

    Your quoted comment reminded me of an uncomfortable teaching experience I once had. I was teaching an intro to politics course, emphasizing a focus on individual decision- making, as opposed to focusing on groups or society. There was a black student in the class, and if I recall correctly he was either the only black student or one of just two or three (out of about 20). When I asked them to write a paper that focused on a situation of individual decision-making, he wrote about the experience of “the black man” in America. On the one hand, he didn’t do the project that was actually assigned, and by not doing so he was not grasping the methodological purpose of the course. On the other, I recognized that black men do by and large have a common social experience that white men don’t have.

    But I wanted him to be able to break out of that monolithic perspective and be able to see the experiences of individuals, including individual black men, who don’t of course all respond the same way–don’t all make the same decisions–in response to their common experience.

    Unfortunately I didn’t make that point clear. I asked him “who is this black man?”, which is an apt question, but which was based in my experience with methodological individualism, and didn’t have a clear referent in his own experience. I think he finally, at least partially, got what I was saying, but it was clear that he didn’t find my approach meaningful to his own life and experience. But as much as I understood where he was coming from, and as much as I empathize with his experience (although obviously something I’ve never experienced personally, but only vicariously) and the social problem that concerned him, it still seems to me that he was limiting himself, and unconsciously placing limits on black men in general, by treating all of them as interchangeable black men. But it’s damned tricky for a white guy to say that without sounding like he’s whitesplainin.’ (And if anyone thinks I was and am, I’m open to the possibility and won’t take offense.)

    Sometimes people plant seeds in others’ minds that take years to germinate. I know profs who did this for me, and I’ve had students tell me I dd it for them. I can only hope I did it for this student, and I can say that he certainly did so for me.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

      James, very nice comment. Ya know, I think this sort of thing occurs all the time, especially in intro-level course, before the kids learn the types of concepts that are definitive of the discipline. I’ve had similar experiences with kids about other – non-racial – issues, where the student didn’t quite master a concept and explaining to them precisely why verged on (but hopefully didn’t quite arrive at) a form of ‘splainin. It’s not, of course, it seems to me. A concept and its application within a discipline are presumably tools that permit analysis and interesting explanatory theories and suchlike.

      Now, whether any particular discipline itself constitutes an elaborate form of ‘splainin is a harder challenge to meet, it seems to me.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

      he was limiting himself, and unconsciously placing limits on black men in general, by treating all of them as interchangeable black men

      Did you consider that this is contextual? Like the space aliens could abduct one man and one woman and have representative specimens of human; any human would do, they’re interchangeable.

      Wouldn’t that same student, in a room full of black men, find individual decision-making the norm? We see an individual of a smaller group held up as The Representative in a larger group; so Obama represents all blacks; Hillary Clinton represents All Liberal Women.

      This assigning of interchangeable representative status seems really common to black men; so I’d guess that there’s a all sorts of social conditioning about how to behave and conform to representative status. Perhaps it has some protective/defensive/camouflage benefit where the individual can avoid detection in a hostile group by morphing into the interchangeable representative.

      But my guess is that the instinct here is as old as mankind. When your kids go out into the world, don’t you tell them they represent your family; that their actions and behavior reflect on your whole family?Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to zic says:

        When your kids go out into the world, don’t you tell them they represent your family; that their actions and behavior reflect on your whole family?

        Uh, no, actually. I tell them to behave in a way that’s cognizant of the the fact that their actions affect the people who happen to be around them.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

          +1. My parents would go around from church to church, raising money for the mission work. We kids were expected to be perfect little representatives of Christian virtue. Most of my Dad’s life was spent in Christian work and should we misbehave in any way, he would snarl at us from behind the steering wheel, driving home, scaring us to half to death, saying our conduct would have repercussions on putting food on the table. I was never more miserable, more fearful, more helpless.

          I swore I would never do that to my own kids and I didn’t. Often as not, in the company of others, I would remark how I felt like a little donkey who had sired three race horses. “My kids are so good, it gives me pause to consider whether they’re actually my own kids. I cannot believe my good fortune to have children such as these for I certainly do not deserve them.”Report

          • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Ugh. What a miserable experience for a child.

            And ditto on the luck. I suppose my wife and I can’t be terrible parents, since we haven’t managed to spoil our kids’ inherent decency, but in truth they’ve always been good towards other people, and we don’t think we can really take much credit for that.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

              One of my daughters overheard me saying that to some family friends and jokingly asked if I was in fact her father? I said “Well, you’ll have to ask your mother about that. But I’m sure as hell glad people think you’re my kid.”Report

          • My best friend growing up had a father who was a baptist minister and head of a congregation. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but in retrospect I realize there was a lot of pressure on my friend to be part of the public “first family” of the church. My friend was pretty much a rebel–typical “preacher’s son”–and I assume the expectations placed on him had something to do with that.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to zic says:

        When your kids go out into the world, don’t you tell them they represent your family; that their actions and behavior reflect on your whole family?

        The distinction between this and “whatever will the neighbors think?” is very, very fine indeed.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

      James (Can I still call you that? Or should I use your new handle?),

      I’m trying to understand this and just can’t seem to. Can you break it down for me? What was the class on? What were the students asked to do? What did this student do that didn’t meet the criteria?


      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Kazzy says:

        The class was an into to politics class–which can take a zillion different forms. My approach was to build up the political world starting with the individual–individual decision-making and rational choice–to group level decision-making (and its irrationalities), and then to the design of institutions–rules and procedures–for managing collective decision-making.

        The key here is that the approach begins with the individual, as opposed to the group. This is a conceptual division in the social sciences. Sociology, in particular, emphasizes groups as the basic unit to be studied, the basic unit of human action even, and treats individuals as analytically useless in trying to understand social organization. At its strongest, there is a strong social construction vision of humanity that says you are born tabula rasa and are nothing more than the sum of social influences.

        Conversely, economics uses a strict methodological individualism–the individual is the basic unit to be studied, is the basic unit of human action, and social structures are just the outcome of individual decision-making.

        Those are stated in their strongest forms, for explanatory purposes; neither discipline is actually that monolithic in its approach, and perhaps relatively few people in those disciplines are truly absolutist in their preferred approach. But I have known those who are, on each side, and it’s pathetically easy to start a serious verbal and even institutional battle over which is right.

        Those disciplines are most representative of the types, and others are more internally divided, including anthropology, psychology, and–my field–political science. So what I was teaching them was the methodological individualism conception (which is what I lean toward, but I don’t deny the power of cultural influence). And so this student project was to apply the concept of rational decision-making in a political context by taking some political event–could be a decision to go to war, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Clinton impeachment, etc. etc., and analyze it from the individual decision-makers’ perspective, looking for the rationality in their decisions.

        The student didn’t choose a political event to explain, but focused on the plight (if I may use that horribly over-used word) of the black man in American–not some rational decision made by some black man. Not even how a hypothetical black man would rationally respond to the reality of racism. Really, it was just a critique of institutional racism, the white world against the black world. And that argument occurs at the group level focus, not the individual level.

        On one level, it just didn’t meet the assignment requirements, because it focused on group level dynamics rather than individual decision-making. On another level it bothers me because I think it misdirects our focus. If we focus on the racism of whites, we absolve individual white people of responsibility. I know the theory is that really we’re all responsible, but, hey, I’m just an epiphenomenon of society, too, not an active creator of that society, so it’s not my fault. And at the same time, black people become merely victims without individuality, also mere epiphenomema, without the ability to make choices that aren’t just pre-determined by the social forces that shape them. Nobody is fully human in this approach–or so it seems to me–but we are all just representatives of a type, without will or autonomy or individual meaning. Our meaning is only that of our group or type–we have no meaning in and of ourselves.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

          Thanks for this. I’ve got some follow up questions but will have to come back to them as I’m heading out for the day. Just wanted you to know that I saw and appreciated fleshing it out.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

          James, outstanding comment. You wrote

          i>Nobody is fully human in this approach–or so it seems to me

          That might be true and I can see how explaining why in those terms could take you dangerously close to ‘splainin. I just wanted to throw in $.02 on that part, (fwiw, IMHO, all that): the view you’re criticizing is descriptively inaccurate because it’s incomplete.Report

          • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Stillwater says:

            the view you’re criticizing is descriptively inaccurate because it’s incomplete.

            Yes. But likewise, the view I was advocating is also incomplete, as it’s critics are quick to point out. My approach should be seen as a methodology for anlalysis, a model of behavior, but like everything we call a model, not a complete representation of the real thing. The same for their approach. But some folks on both sides fail to see this, and do believe it’s a complete description. I think my folks commit that sin less often than the other folks, though. (The funny thing is both sides sneer dismissively at the other side, while remaining firmly convinced that the other side is afraid of them–it’s enough to make a person a bit cynical, but fortunately I could never be accused of that.(Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

          Out of curiosity, do you have an opinion on what I’ll call Political Ontology, for lack of a better phrase? Consider: we are both (presumably) white men of a certain age, beneficiaries of a system which got us through more education that was probably good for us, capable of considering the world more abstractly than most people, simply because we have the vocabulary to do so. Were we asked to put together a list of adjectives to describe ourselves, I dare say “white” wouldn’t appear in the list. It would be sorta gauche to put it on the list, don’t you think?

          I have this theory about Political Ontology based on tribal identity. In Europe and elsewhere, it’s a joke: ask an American who he is and he’ll never say “American”. He’ll give you a longish bit of prose about how his father’s side is Czech and Irish and his mother’s side is Italian and Filipino — and there’s always a little bit of Native American in there somewhere, usually Cherokee, for good measure.

          But our political identities, those are shaped by outside forces. Why would black people seem to have a discrete political identity separate from all the others? Many people voted for Barack Obama because he was black — though clearly he could be considered white, see previous paragraph. Conservative black people are seen as outliers, though any thoughtful person would understand anyone could embrace any political philosophy, colour be damned.

          We are the product of what we’ve done, what’s happened to us. Our grievances are personal and we share an identity with other similarly aggrieved persons. Identity is tricksy: individuality can only go so far. Our identities, plural: political, racial, spiritual, sexual, job description, sports team allegiances, do carry labels with them. We cannot easily cast them aside: I am a man, you are, too. Vas macht a mensch?

          Even in our attempts to frame the debate, we’re constantly applying labels and summoning up acronymic portmanteaus and lumpin’ them together. Years ago it was “homosexuals”. After that it was “lesbians and gays” — a useful enough description at the time. Then it was “LGBT” and now it’s “LGBTQ” — same with our descriptions of black people. I am old enough to have used “Negroes” as the polite word. Now I use it as an archaism to describe antique, condescending (if well-meant) attitudes about a group of people who probably shouldn’t even be lumped together at all.

          We desperately want to be individuals, little realising we’re taking on these group identities, consciously or unconsciously — it doesn’t matter, we constantly do it and we derive our own identities from those group identities. Shared grievances, shared predicaments, these create the most powerful of group identities. In the military, it’s called Esprit de Corps, Morale. It’s measured. It’s put in status reports.Report

          • “and there’s always a little bit of Native American in there somewhere, usually Cherokee, for good measure.”

            I’ve known my share of white people who “have some Cherokee” in their background.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

              … half the time that’s slang for black, ya know? 😉
              (folks started out black, then intermarried, then the “black grandma” turned into an “indian grandma” for the white grandchild…)Report

          • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to BlaiseP says:

            BP, it’s a good question, but not really within my scope.

            I think there is a human nature that is the product of evolution from common ancestors with chimpanzees and bonobos, and further evolution within small hunter-gatherer groups; that this nature is most marked by it’s aspect of Homo sapiens being social animals and having an uneasy interaction between self-interest and collective interests; that this nature still underlies all our behaviors, although it does not strictly determine them; that it often interacts oddly, perhaps inappropriately with the modern world because biological evolution cannot proceed as fast as cultural evolution; that part of this social nature is an attentiveness and propensity to be influenced by culture (a consequence of long life spans, we don’t need to be born with instinct, but have time as children/adolescents to learn through social learning how to respond to our environments, and reinforced by the benefits of being an accepted member of the tribe, and dangers of ostracism from the tribe, in the ancestral environment); and that part of this nature is also tribalism, with its attendant personal securities and collective pathologies.

            How all that works out in real practice in the contemporary world to shape our political identities? I think some broad outlines are clear, but the details lie in issues I don’t really study closely.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

              IMHO individuality is entirely overrated. We think ourselves so utterly unique, our every thought so fine and new. I contend most of what we call Individuality is an illusion: the advertisers know this. Our choices are predictable and we form our identities around our choices as if in choosing we are given much choice in the matter.

              Even in our rebellion against the Status Quo, the choices are fairly limited and the marketing weasels have us All Figured Out. We mock the Hipsters, the Hippies were no different, the Mods and Rockers, every rebellion becomes its own sort of conformity.

              In many languages, notably Japanese, “I” is a rude sort of word. Watashi wa, this-person. Individuality is a comforting bit of self-delusion. We know human beings aren’t rational. We know, even with the tragedy of the commons in view, that we act against our common best interests. At best, we try to fend off the worst excesses of mass mediocrity but the literate man is a sucker for propaganda. You cannot propagandize a native. You can sell him rum and trinkets, but you cannot sell him ideas. That’s Marshall McLuhan.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to BlaiseP says:

                IMHO individuality is entirely overrated

                And yet you’re not replaceable by any randomly selected person. Not that I don’t agree that it’s easy to overstate individuality, and damned if I’m going to get all heart-warming and tell you you’re a snowflake,, but my initial point of emphasis is that black guy X is not identical to black guy Y, etc., etc.

                We know human beings aren’t rational. We know, even with the tragedy of the commons in view, that we act against our common best interests.

                Actually, using the rational choice theorists’ definition of rationality, and their understanding of how that doesn’t scale up readily to group-level/collective rationality is how we explain why commons so frequently suffer the tragedy.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

                I certainly can be replaced — and will be replaced. One white guy is pretty much as white as the next white guy, that much seems pretty obvious.

                Sure, we can surmise why people choose — just don’t call it rational except in the most tenuous use of that word. How else can we explain the appeal of gambling? Anyone who took two semesters of algebra and still goes to a casino (except for the buffet!) should be forced to take them again.

                We are replaceable. The guy typing these words is unique only to the extent some combination of things happened to him which didn’t happen to anyone else. But all those individual things also happened to others, not just me — my individual attributes are shared with many others. Start getting carried away with this uniqueness business and suddenly my kids are so much smarter than your kids, etc. All sorts of fatheaded thinking arises: we’ve all seen the guy who gets carried away at work, saying stupid things, thinks he can’t be replaced. We may not be replaceable on a random basis but we can certainly be replaced by others with similar keywords in our resumes.

                I don’t think this is tribalism at work. The individual isn’t the basic unit to be studied: Everyone is a collection of attributes: if there’s anything those marketing types care about, it’s attributes and categories. Kropotkin talks about homo reciprocans, cooperative man. We derive our sense of justice from reciprocity: even homo economicus is outraged when his invoice isn’t paid.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I certainly can be replaced… We are replaceable….The individual isn’t the basic unit to be studied

                Only if you think collectives are the appropriate unit of study. Which makes James’ upthread point. There are other ways to study these things.

                Alsotoo, Blaise, you’re irreplaceable. On an individual basis, but also from the pov of the “collective”. You, my man, are a unique snowflake. And I mean that in all seriousness.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I certainly can be replaced

                Not randomly. Or if so, I want to know if you make more money than me.

                Re: rationality. For rational choice theorists it primarily just means people generally make choices that lead toward their preferences, but it doesn’t define preferences, which are treated as exogenous to the model. If the thrill of gambling is someone’s preference, then chucking a quarter in a one-armed bandit is a rational decision. I’m aware that this is not exactly consonant with the more common use of the term rational, but a) as I said, it’s a model for analysis, not a complete description of human decision-making, and b) a big part of its value is that it’s non-normative–it just considers whether a person’s decision-making is effective given 1) their particular preferences, and 2) the state of their knowledge. For my own part, it’s hugely advantageous to keep preferences outside the definition of rational because it keeps us from importing our own preferences into our considerations of others’ choices.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Well, if most of individualism is overrated, at least we can say that the US gave it a good try before collectivism proved itself right.Report

  8. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Any group of men that concerns themselves so much with being good men rather than good people is helping to re-build the wall between the sexes that feminism has been tearing down for decades.

    We should reject this view.

    Let’s not forget that even tho feminism has tried to tear down the wall between the sexes it also empowered culturally conservative women to openly (stridently!) value and advocate for traditional gender roles.Report

  9. Avatar LWA says:

    Our discussions of gender roles are always constrained by our own history.

    “Traditional” usually means “What we grew up with”, and nearly always uses the American suburban post-WWII culture as a reference point.

    Which is difficult, because it forces the complex profiles of gender into a false dichotomy of embracing one image or another. Or even worse, proposing that gender identity doesn’t exist, or that it is entirely a cultural construct.

    Looking at the longer view of history, of how men and women identified themselves and behaved, is more instructive. When Medieval knights declared their affection for fellow men, were they being metrosexual? When Greeks embraced same-sex relationships, were they enlightened feminists? Samurai warriors prided themselves on their poetry and refined manners; were they rejecting male role models?

    I am always a bit skeptical of breathless claims that somehow we, in our generation, have transcended history, and charted a new path unlike anything that has ever gone before. The more I read history, the more I find the behavior of people 100, 500, or 2,000 years ago remarkably familiar.

    Maybe a lot of the “new” gender behavior, that we are regarding with anxiety and uncertainty is nothing more than a return to form.Report

    • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to LWA says:


      I think there’s something to this. My own bias as a historian is to seek out areas of continuity over time rather than change over time. It’s a willful bias. I choose to seek it out because doing so, in my opinion, answers questions that seeking out change over time does not fully answer.Report

  10. I doubt this would be the intention of The Good Men Project, but it is the result. Any group of men that concerns themselves so much with being good men rather than good people is helping to re-build the wall between the sexes that feminism has been tearing down for decades.

    Stillwater has already commented on this, and Kazzy has, too, albeit indirectly, when he brought up some of the possibilities for gender specific mentoring (even though he suggests that much of the “need” for such mentoring might be reflective of socialization). But I have a little something to add.

    I think it’s a mistake to see the “wall” between men and women as one wall or something that can be chipped away at or torn down in order to create a basing-point humanity. I tend to think that “difference” and the desire to construct “difference” is deep-rooted, and that tearing down a wall will not do away with all dividing points. Some feminists, I believe, recognize this, at least implicitly, both right-leaning social conservative “feminists” (as Stillwater pointed out), and those left-leaning feminists who have adopted (or in the context of social/cultural history, discerned) what they call “strategic essentialism,” or a recognition that context posits a gender “difference” and that it is possible to work within that difference for liberation or for the eventual undermining of that difference.

    By saying “difference” is deep-rooted, I don’t quite intend to mean that it is natural and inevitable, or that it is best of all possible worlds. I, for one, would like a more equitable understanding of gender (and racial) relations that is not based so much on difference (and without the institutional supports for some of the most onerous attributes of difference). But I think we’re on the wrong track if we think we can just tear down the wall.Report

    • I should add I can’t really comment on the Good Men Project or Schwyzer. I have heard of the former, but haven’t really read the website, and I have heard of the latter only in this post.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      I guess it depends on how you construct the metaphor of the wall.

      I see it as a wall built built of millions of actions and assumptions; each it’s own brick contributing the the strength of the wall. Some of those bricks harm men — in child custody, being the primary care-giver in a family, as victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or rape.

      Tearing down the wall, then, isn’t about eliminating the differences between genders, so much as recognizing where we limit people due to assumptions based on gender.Report

    • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      I said this in some other post here, so let me repeat it here:

      People are not human beings. Or, rather, there is an animal species called Homo Sapiens Sapiens that hypothetically exists and has some form of behavior that we know nothing about.

      We are not them. What we are is civilized _people_. Modern, Western civilized people. Almost every single thing we do, everything we think we know about ourselves socially and psychologically, is due to what society has taught us. (And don’t think I’m trying to make some sort of argument that other societies are not that way. All societies are that way. There are no ‘natural’ humans. I’m just specifically talking about modern western people in this post. I don’t know anything about how some native Amazon tribe behaves.)

      I suspect you agree, I was just trying to reframe the issue. Talking about about tearing down the wall wouldn’t really result in a natural states…because there is not functionally such a thing for humans. We don’t have a misapplied social layer over some sort of natural equality…we can no more strip away socialization than we can strip away the floor of a space station.

      What we have to do is _build something different_. Something where we see the genders as essentially the same. In the end, we certainly won’t get there 100% in any foreseeable amount of time, but we don’t really need 100%.

      It will be slow, even slower than fighting racism. Because racism was rarely tangled up in sex, which is a very important aspect of people. (And when it _did_ tangle up in sex, you’ll notice that part took the longest to fix. Many people were uncomfortable with interracial relationships long after they were ‘not racist’ in most other ways.)

      The irony here is that, while men have often been trained to have no respect for women, seeing them solely as sexual objects to be won, a good portion of what our culture has built out WRT sex has resulted in women being less willing to have sex, for various reasons. In fact, those two things reinforce each other. Men are being trained to behave in ironically self-defeating ways.

      The important thing is that bigotry hurts _everyone_. It hurts the people being discriminated against, and that causes blowback that hurts, to varying degrees, the ‘type’ of people who are discriminating (Even the ones who have not done so.) This blowback can be small if the discriminated group is powerless and small and rarely interact with the discriminators, but, uh, that doesn’t describe women.

      Men should be trying to fix things as much as women. Even without moral considerations, it hurts us. (Not as much as them, but it does hurt.) Women walk around, for example, viewing us all as potential rapists…because a fairly damn high percentage of us are. Or, at a lesser scale, being viewed as some sort of asshole who will lie to get her in bed and then tell everyone how clever I am. There is almost _no trust_ given to men by women, for completely logical reasons.

      I don’t _like_ the men who have forced women to think that way about me.Report

      • There’s a lot to chew on here, and I think I agree with most of it.

        One point in which I might see things differently from you is in what appears to be your belief that the humans are not or cannot be in any meaningful way “natural.” It is possible I’m misinterpreting you, and even if I’m not, I’m not sure I see it differently. But I do think that the “natural” and the “civilizational/societal” (to use clumsy words) are more or less constructs we adopt to help understand or explain the world, and that in some limited cases, we can usefully posit such a distinction.

        Even if we do disagree on this point–and again, I’m not sure I’m reading you right and I’m not sure that I really do disagree–I’m not sure if my disagreement is just a pedantic quibble or something that has something useful to say about the topic at hand.Report

        • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

          But I do think that the “natural” and the “civilizational/societal” (to use clumsy words) are more or less constructs we adopt to help understand or explain the world, and that in some limited cases, we can usefully posit such a distinction.

          Well, yes, we can posit such a distinction, but we’re almost always entirely erring on the side of natural.

          That’s not to say there might not be _tendencies_ of men and women to be interested or not in certain things, or even be good at certain things. And of course there are biological differences with muscle mass and weighing risks of pregnancy and other stuff. But pretty much every single interaction between men and women, and the outcome of it, are created by society.

          That said, the ‘wall’, as you put it, between men and women is not exactly like most forms of Othering. Men and women have always lived together, in mostly the same society, so 90% of Othering is gibberish.

          The idea that women were ‘lesser’ had to be very carefully planted over a very long time, and it seems like it would be just as hard to undo…except that society doesn’t really work like that. You have to slowly convince everyone that half the population is not important, especially when this requires the help of that half of the population.

          Sexism isn’t like racism, where you can teach people to dislike a small group of people. Or where you can convince people to dislike people in a country they’ve never been to. That actually is pretty easy. But women are _right there_. Everyone knows them. Plus, the _women_ will object.

          It is, to use a dumb analogy, slowly boiling a frog….you have to make sure no one notices. And, just as importantly, you have to use a few threats of force over the years to convince the women who aren’t going along with it.

          But _fixing_ the problem?

          Our civilization, all civilizations, have one overriding meme, without which they are not actually civilization. It is that empathy is extended to everyone, even people we don’t know. This meme is required for us to live in cities of more than 200 or so people, it is the entire basis of society. (So if you really want to call something ‘natural’, I guess this would be it. There’s a reason that every religion has some form of the golden rule.)

          And once you erase the Othering, once you get people see those people _as_ people, prejudice rapidly dissolves.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      Good comment Pierre. I think the liberation aspect of feminism is really important to keep in mind when making judgments about other people’s views and actions, especially men’s, and in particular when those views and actions are regarded as entrenching (presumably) arbitrary differences between genders. There comes a point at which cultural analysis is insufficient to account for people’s choices, since ultimately, analysis can beg the question. (It becomes a race up the meta-ladder.)

      I tend to think a charitable view of The Good Men Project is that members are choosing to act and that that choice is consistent with the feminism. And why wouldn’t it be? If women’s liberation was primarily about empowering women to reject culturally determined norms and expectations and actively choose their own destinies, why can’t men do the same? Why can’t choosing a norm the culturally established norm be an empowering act? (Or: why can’t choosing a norm that just so happens to be culturally established be an empowering act?)

      Of course, feminism – and feminists! – might not be too pleased with men invoking an “argument from choice” about the roles they will play. But! – and I guess this is the point I wish I could make a good argument for – there is nothing inherently oppressive about men getting together to talk about gender identity and the types of roles men should play. It’s a choice those particular men are making, and a choice that will shape and affirm their own self-concepts. From their pov, it’s a useful activity. From ours, tho, as non-members, we are allowed to ask “for better or worse?” and make a judgment about them and their beliefs. I’m just not at all convinced that individuals choosing to reinforce traditional roles is a bad thing. As long as they’re choosing it. (Which was the point I made upthread.)

      So the normative claim that we “should” reject views that attempt to rebuild or maintain a wall between the sexes strikes me as … I don’t know what the word is. Problematic. Perhaps presumptuous. Maybe that it’s too categorical. Maybe that it’s not consistent with Liberation.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Stillwater says:

        You warn us of the meta-ladder, Stillwater, but just can’t help testing it anyway. The post derives an absolute ought from an is-ness of a supposed non-ness, and I don’t think that in truth you accept either side of the equation, either the intellectual legitimacy of the act of derivation or the certainty of the non-ness: Your “presumably” gave you away.Report

      • Stillwater,

        ” But! – and I guess this is the point I wish I could make a good argument for – there is nothing inherently oppressive about men getting together to talk about gender identity and the types of roles men should play. ”

        I wish I could make a good argument for it, too, but I do tend to agree.Report

  11. Avatar Shazbot5 says:

    Well, I do think men need to be hard on other men to stop sexism. We are the cause of sexism and so we are more responsible for solving it.

    I think that might create a need for something like the “Good Men” project, which I don’t know much about.

    So, I am mostly in agreement with the OP, but with that caveat. By analogy, we can’t all just magically pretend to be color blind about race and hope racism will go away. We white robots need to be hard on the other white robots and ourselves. We need to be focused on sexism and racism and you can’t do that by trying to not think about it.

    Not sure that the OP disagrees, or if that is relevant, but felt like saying it.Report

  12. Not completely off topic, but here’s an article about men and sexism that I find very interesting:

  13. Avatar Chris says:

    I admit to not being a Hugo fan. In fact, I’ve found him to be a condescending prick pretty much since I first read him about 10 years ago. His feminism is bad, and he’s generally bad for feminism. Plus, he’s a condescending prick (did I say that already?).

    However, I think I see his point, however mangled it is by his frustratingly limited writing style. I know I am generally uncomfortable with May-December romances, particularly between men and women, because they reinforce pernicious cultural ideals for women, which is one of the points Schwyzer makes:

    Ours, as Buchanan documented, is a culture which represents men’s sexual desirability as being as enduring as women’s is fleeting.

    This is not to say that I think there’s something inherently wrong with these relationships, but we don’t live in a world of ideal relationships, so we don’t get to talk about relationships as though their analytic implications were all that there were to them. They exist in a cultural context, and particularly when they buck or reinforce cultural norms and ideals.

    I also get his point about mentoring young men, though I can’t for the life of me figure out why he thinks not dating young women would give older men more time to mentor young women. Presumably older partners take up as much time as younger ones, right? Maybe even more so, since they’re going to expect you to be, you know, a responsible adult. I don’t think, however, that he thinks men should primarily or exclusively be the mentors of men simply because they share a gender. I assume he would want young men to have both male and female mentors.Report

  14. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Well, I’m not sure I agree entirely with his point about older men and younger women, but I think the real issue has to do with our limited understanding of the connection between friendship and Eros, which is something that we still seem to fumble through too much. There is an erotic element to mentoring and a mentoring element to many sexual relationships. I wish he’d talked more about older men dating younger men and older women dating younger men and really how a relationship between an older person and a younger person can be beneficial to both, especially since he brought up mentoring, which is one of the oldest and most venerable sorts of human relationships. My intellectual development owes much to a professor who happens to be a woman and whose insights come to some extent from her experience as a woman. I have had many male mentors as well.

    As for his sexism, I’m not sure I see it in that example. He seems, to me, to be saying that older men can do a lot of good by mentoring younger men, which isn’t quite the same as saying mentors for young men need to be mentored by men and not women. Nevertheless, I think the real issue is we still don’t get Eros right, which is really the only thing we need to accomplish in this life and the hardest.Report

  15. Avatar Kimmi says:
    Is the only possible way I can respond to the title of this essay.Report